Legal Red Light on a Product's Green Claims

Article excerpt

In the 80s many companies adopted Green ad strategies to tap growing consumer interest in environmentally-friendly products and services. To protect the public from false or misleading Green claims, various bodies, encouraged by consumer pressure groups, set up codes of practice. These, which are not legally binding, and existing legislation, provide a framework for control of Green claims.

Statutory control

Under the Control of Misleading Advertisements Regulations 1988, the Director General of Fair Trading can apply to the courts for an injunction prohibiting the publication of an ad. This seldom happens, particularly where the Director General believes it can be dealt with by self-regulation. Advertisers may also be prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 but successful convictions are rare.

Codes of Practice

The Committee of Advertising Practice's guidance for non-broadcast advertising recommends that:

* no absolute claims should be made without convincing evidence that a product will have no adverse effect on the environment;

* the basis of any claim should be clearly explained;

* extravagant language should be avoided; and

* factual claims must be able to be substantiated.

The Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre and The Radio Authority issued similar guidelines for broadcast advertising, which include recommendations that:

* generalised claims for environmental benefit will be assessed on a "cradle to grave" approach;

* in qualified claims a product must demonstrate a significant advantage over competitors or an improvement to itself, and the nature of the benefit must be made clear;

* ambiguity in wording and visuals must be avoided. …